The Unbearable Lightness of Boredom

BY AMY MROTEK

In a space between suntans and sandals, bonfires and beach-cladded Instagram feeds, there exists a period of seasonal sway beholden to all as summer. Faces stained by s’mores and popsicle dribble smile at its faintest whiff, knowing the ease and pleasures derived from its days are rooted in sunset tints of leisurely fun.

Summer is the Saturday of the entire year. We look forward to it like a first date, familiarized with its nostalgia before even dipping our toes in its warm sands. We mark our calendars and count down the days until it finally arrives, all the while rehearsing the activities we plan to check off the bucket list before the inevitable squeeze of school rolls itself around.

And yet summer for me has always tasted like a 1 a.m. run to Polito’s–great in the moment, sullied with regret the next day. In other words, I fall into the habit of puffing and amplifying its expectations up to such magnanimous moments that inevitably I burden myself with remorse. I expect too much from summer, too much fun, too much time and too much gratifying circumstance. Anything that doesn’t live up to these mental projections will therefore fall flat.

The results of such grandiose, unfulfilled anticipations translate inexplicably to the other side of the spectrum. Boredom ensues. And it ensues hard.

That one little word creeps her way up our gut, taps us on the shoulder, tells us how lame we are, that we should be doing something–anything–to better fill our time. She prods and nags until we can’t watch Netflix without making a joke as to how boring we are, a half-hearted, self-depreciatory defense against feeling further blows that only reinforces the original hitch. And while most of our summers include work and internships and travelling of some flavor or another–all the sorts of things we stamp summertime meaning on–the fact remains boredom is an inescapable and long-term partner to our inner selves. And, as such, it needs to be cultivated.

Perhaps more so than any other point in the year, summer gifts the plot to do so. In the perfunctory line dance that seems to define your average day, very little room is left for intense self-prescription. We write off boredom like a headache–distracting, mildly annoying, something to be overcome as quickly as possible–when by its very existence it seems to entail the opposite. The rosy plans we seem to save for summer become the connective delineations necessary to mediate what deeply and truly fuels our sense of fulfillment. Summer is no longer about finding time for the things we can’t do throughout the year. It’s about discovering why you’ve staved off those things in the first place and what about them fundamentally satiates you.

Boredom is the beacon amidst all this. If boredom is the absence of concrete purpose–or for a real metaphysical summersault, the presence of apathy–then already a problematic series of attitudes is on display. When we chastise ourselves for being bored, it waters the assumption of a task-oriented existence, one so preoccupied with being preoccupied there’s no room left to put your feet up and breathe. It is to skulk down a slender, linear tract of regurgitated functionality where time and space suddenly feel awkward if they aren’t premeditated. To say you’re bored reveals more than you have nothing to do. It implies you’re uncomfortable with being and nothingness, with taking things as they come, one by one, in situ.

If there’s a mysterious purpose to boredom, it rests in the wordless compulsion our minds have with meaning generation. And there’s something intuitively reassuring in this. Nothing comes from nothing may work for Parmenides, and we can rest assured in the Western ability to tether purpose to uniform, unchanging activity. But we should simultaneously be careful when we allow our expectations of the day to trump what’s actually there. We should all take a step back and be bored, really, really bored, in order to elicit what it is we want to seep our time with to begin with.

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